David Holmgren’s Journey with Permaculture Design Process – Part Two (e54)
Welcome back to Part Two of a conversation with permaculture co-originator David Holmgren. In which David continues sharing significant milestones from his many decades as a practicing permaculture designer.
Thanks to this project's wonderful patrons, I was once again able to have the audio professionally transcribed. The text below then received significant edits for clarity from patron Jon Buttery (thanks Jon!), myself, and most importantly David. Thanks also to David for kindly sharing relevant photos that help bring the text to life.
Don't miss Part One if you haven't yet heard/read it, and given the quality of thinking David shares in this continuation, I hope you'll leave a comment. I anticipate a follow up conversation with David exploring questions and reflections from your comments, so please make the most of the opportunity.
Finally, given this conversation again touches on the core skill of reading landscape, please check out and consider supporting the documentary film David, myself, and videographer Dave Meagher are currently endeavouring to bring into the world.
Starting Holmgren Design Services
Dan Palmer: All right. Well, here I am for the continuation of the discussion we started earlier. After a bit of a break, must have been, I don’t know, six weeks or something.
David Holmgren: Yeah. It’s been a busy time.
Dan Palmer: I’ll say! - a busy and very interesting time. It turned out the first recording was about an hour, and we got to the point where you'd started Holmgren Design Services, so that seems like a great place to start. You’d told us a lot about the project at your mother’s place in New South Wales and the learning you’d been doing from Hakai Tane about strategic planning, and then shrinking that down to apply to a site level. It’d be awesome to hear about the experience of moving into the space of permaculture design consultancy.
David Holmgren: In 1983 I started a business and registered a business name. There were lot of things that were going on in my life, which I can also correlate with things that were happening in the wider world: that led me to getting serious earning a living, personal relationships, and also living in the city. The consultancy work I did, was primarily advising and designing for people who were moving onto rural properties; what these days people call a ‘tree-change’.
Consulting on a Central Victorian property in 2020 (as part of the Reading Landscape film project)
That work fell into sort of two broad types. One-day verbal onsite advisory, walking around the property and suggesting things with clients. Then there was a more limited number of clients where I was providing reports and plans that gave me the opportunity to reflect. There were a lot of constraints on how to make a viable business in that, especially if your work wasn’t focused on affluent people, but instead empowering people who were going to get out and do these things themselves, often starting from scratch, and often making big mistakes. My advice and design drew on a combination of my own experience as well as observing how others had tackled the back to land process over the previous decade. By then I also had a very strong commitment to Victoria and South Eastern Australia of landscapes and ecologies and design issues that I was familiar with in that territory.
Dan Palmer: Was that where all or the majority of your professional work happened?
David Holmgren: Yeah, it was. There was occasional work further-afield - certainly into the dry Mediterranean country in South Australia and into New South Wales, Sydney region, but most of it was in Victoria.
Dan Palmer: Permaculture was a new thing so in a sense you were defining the industry or making it up as you went along.
David Holmgren: Yeah. It was also a time of very strong backlash against alternative ideas. When I set up the business, I had mixed feelings about whether I would descri...